Adaptive Gardens: Access for All

By modifying traditional gardening techniques, a non-profit has delivered the healing power of nature to its clients.

Photo by Lacey Kinder

You may have already heard that hospitals and health care facilities around the world are becoming attuned to the way time spent outdoors can benefit their patients. Proximity to nature can promote elevated feelings of calm and reduce blood pressure, as well as stimulate beneficial brain activity. While healing gardens have gone a long way in relieving the stress brought on by exhausting clinical treatments, some gardeners have made it their goal to bring patients even closer to nature. They’re using adaptive gardening techniques to create spaces where patients not only walk through nature, but engage their senses by interacting with the plants.

For a century, the Capper Foundation in Topeka, Kansas, has sought innovative ways to improve the lives of the more than 2,000 people with disabilities served annually. The nonprofit, which is dedicated to providing therapy services and home- and community-based support, was born in 1920 due to the determination of former Kansas governor, U.S. senator, and philanthropist Arthur Capper. A devoted advocate of children with disabilities, Capper bequeathed assets so the foundation could purchase land and develop a new campus — the same location at which it operates today.

Photo by Lacey Kinder

The staff, supporters, and volunteers who ensure Capper’s legacy have grown the Capper Foundation to serve both adults and children. When they saw the healing that outdoor activity and gardening could bring, they knew it was a service that should be brought to the campus.

Adaptive Designs

What’s an adaptive garden? It’s one that modifies traditional gardening methods to accommodate the physical limitations of its visitors. For some people, these problems include pain, sensory loss, or limited joint movement. For the Capper Foundation, this also meant designing an open space large enough to be enjoyed by many clients at once, choosing plants pleasing to the senses, and ensuring raised beds and planters were built to specific heights to make them wheelchair accessible on all sides.



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